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Playing Through Injury


keeper_13
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So there's a scrum in my slot late in the game last night, I'm in full on scramble mode, I'm rusty from not playing in a month, and I feel a nasty tweak in my left hip abductor.  I get the whistle and while the lads are changing I leverage myself to my feet and surreptitiously test my leg (never let anyone know you're hurt until you're done for the night unless you know you need medical attention and can't play anymore).  My leg can bear weight and the pain is not severe, but it is a stabbing pain and I can tell that I'm basically a one-legged goaltender.  I can't butterfly or go up and down at all and I can't put any torque on my left leg, which means I can't even take proper goalie stance.  On the other hand, I can skate at moderate intensity, if I'm mindful.  I've been in situations like this a few times, and here's a handy algorithm that guides my choices:

1)Is it competitive or rec?  Competitive hockey you will likely have a backup goalie.  You owe it to yourself, your team, and your backup to admit you're hurt, get off the ice, and give the net to the backup, even if the game is on the line.  Yourself, because if you try to goaltend through an injury at a high level you will get lit up and you will aggravate your injury.  Your team, because you are unable to safely give them the effort level they deserve.  Your backup, because what the hell do they bother showing up and putting their gear on for if they never get a sniff of the ice?  The question to ask yourself is not, "can I play through this pain?" but rather, "will my body do the things I want it to do?"  If your body will not move the way you want it to, gtfo of the crease.  If your body can move, but you feel pain when it moves, move to step two.

If you're playing rec hockey, you likely don't have another goalie, so when you throw in the towel the night is over for everyone.  If you can safely play through the pain, move to step two.

2)What type of pain is it?  In order of seriousness, stabbing pain > sharp pain > dull pain.  Is the pain constant, or is it only with movement?  Can you reproduce the pain, so that you are completely sure which movements you cannot do, or is it intermittent and unexpected?  This is not about the severity of the pain, it is about the likelihood that the pain indicates potentially serious injury that may be made worse by playing through it.  This is a highly personal decision and will be informed by your cumulative experience as an athlete.  No one else can describe your pain or tell you what your body is capable of.  If you are comfortable with the type of pain you are experiencing, goto step 3.

3)Have you lost the physical ability to move your body in certain ways?  If so, which specific save selections are you unable to execute?  Can you remember not to use those selections with your adrenaline up?  Do you know which save selections you will use instead?  You have now passed the "can I safely play" part of the test, and we're on to "how can I get the best results?"  Goto step 4.

4)How good does the other team think you are?  Your reputation can do some heavy lifting for you here.  Smart forwards don't take shots if they think they have little chance of scoring.  If I know the other team thinks I'm a good goalie (I can tell based on which shooting opportunities they take and which ones they pass up) I have more ability to fake it.  

IF THEY THINK I'M GOOD - 80% of my effort will be to use skating, angles and body language to bluff the shooters.  They don't know I'm hurting, they don't know which specific save selections I am unable to use.  What they do know is when they glance at my net, I'm where I should be.  In the heat of the game, most non-goalies won't recognize the subtle difference between being properly set in your stance and standing in the right place hunched over pretending to be in your stance.  I have finished games, and sometimes won, because the other team's shooters didn't know that I was hurt.  This is a difficult balancing act - I need to appear to be healthy and sharp, but I also need to make sure I don't reinjure myself.  Self-awareness is absolutely vital to doing this safely - you MUST be able to accurately interpret your body's pain in real time even though adrenaline is in the way, and you MUST know which save selections you are not using, and which ones you will use instead.  You must also be willing to allow yourself to be scored on rather than use one of those save selections.  Not everyone can do all of these things.  Be honest with yourself, if you can't do these things get out of the net.

IF THEY THINK I SUCK - Chances are I'm already getting smoked like a doobie.  What's a few more crappy goals?  I'm going to play more or less the same as if they think I'm good, but with less effort and more of a safety margin to make sure I don't hurt myself trying to lose 14-0 instead of 15-0.  I'll also quietly let the lads know that I'm faking it.  Note that I do not do this if I believe I'm in the other team's head - the lads will play better hockey believing their goalie has their back.  If the lads know I'm a shell of my normal self, it will show through in their play, and the other team's smarter forwards WILL pick up on it.  Smart goalies don't allow themselves to believe they are the smartest person on the ice.  That way lies humiliation :)

Anyways, to finish the story I started, I spent about another 10 minutes hobble/gliding around my crease and conceded two goals I would normally be very upset with myself over in a losing effort.  On the upside though, we got to play the full game out.  I don't like it when I'm the reason hockey ends early.

I'm interested in the opinions of other goalies.  Do you have anything to add, any stories to share, or anything you disagree with?  

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My opinion? Don't play injured, and don't play if you've got equipment failure (broken mask/cage) that makes it unsafe.

If it's competitive hockey there's another goalie on the bench who can finish the game. You've got zero reason to push through or risk yourself.

If it's recreational hockey you're there to have a good time, not risk your long-term health over a game. You've got zero reason to push through or risk yourself.

I know we applaud guys who "fight through it" and shit, but that's typically reserved for a player finishing out the PK after blocking a bomb, or pushing through pain for the sake of the team. And there's a difference between pain and injury.

Pain is bruises, a puck riding up into your fingers, or finding your ribs past your chest protector. It hurts, maybe it leaves a mark, but everything is in one piece and you'll have full function of your body come tomorrow morning.

Injury is pulled or torn muscles, concussions, cracked and broken bones. Something broke and it's going to be a while before your body repairs itself.

Unless you're making bucks and pushing for a championship, unless you've got big league insurance to cover your recovery and rehab, don't play through injury. It isn't worth it.

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I dont know how bunny played with the ostomy bag. But he's an unusual goalie with super ability to endure.

@keeper_13. For me, it depended where I was in terms of age and aspiration. From age 7 till college, it didnt matter. I didnt leave the ice under any circumstances including knock out (revived with smelling salts - different time and different headgear) or significant orthopedic injury such as a dislocated shoulder (snap it back in). I didnt want to lose my spot.  After college and several surgeries, from 22 yrs old till age 35 in men's league, bumps, bruises, strains didnt matter but head injuries and joint disruption were enough to make me leave the game and take whatever time was needed to heal. I would play through strains, sprains, bruises, etc.  Now, during my 3rd hockey life (age 50 to present), if I am hurt, I am done for the night. My "tough guy" days are long gone. If I felt what you felt with your hip, I'm finished for the night. About the only thing which wont cause me to leave during Hockey Life 3.0 is bruises...kinda like them. Dont ask why; I dont know. 

I get what you mean about not wanting to blow up the game for everyone else. Shows you are a responsible and probably a pretty good goalie. But there comes an age where it just doesnt make sense any more and can put your family at risk if you are unable to work. Not sure of your age but if you are in Mens League, your calculus should be on yourself and not whether the other teams thinks you're good. That can get very dangerous very fast. Hope you feel better.

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@CJ Boiss You are totally correct.  KIDS!  Don't listen to me, listen to him!  For those of you who, like me, have internalized that whole "don't let the side down by admitting your body has crapped out on you," you probably still should listen to him, but my advice could be viewed as harm reduction, I guess.  I have to admit, even believing you are correct, I know I am going to play through injury again.

 

@bunnyman666Daaaaaayum... 

 

@FullrightLaughed when you said you like bruises.  Makes me think of being a teenager and playing ball hockey with pads that ended at my knee, a glove and a blocker, and thinking I was all tough because I'd end up with bruises and welts all over my arms and torso.  You make solid points about aging, I'm 40 now and am grappling with it.

 

Also, on a side note - if you take a slapshot on the inside of the thigh, and it swells up the size of a grapefruit and looks like raw hamburger, it means you have internal bleeding and should seek immediate mental attention.  Above all else, you should avoid alcohol, as it reduces your blood's ability to clot.  I found out years after how incredibly stupid that particular risk was.  

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2 hours ago, keeper_13 said:

@CJ Boiss You are totally correct.  KIDS!  Don't listen to me, listen to him!  For those of you who, like me, have internalized that whole "don't let the side down by admitting your body has crapped out on you," you probably still should listen to him, but my advice could be viewed as harm reduction, I guess.  I have to admit, even believing you are correct, I know I am going to play through injury again.

Do what I say, not what I do: I 100% played through a mild groin sprain for months (and ended up spraining the other side of my groin. It was also fairly mild. I got lucky). Honestly, as much as I hated being off the ice during COVID lockdowns, it gave my body some much needed time to heal all the little things I'd been ignoring or pushing through.

But, I have no interest in goaltending through an injury anymore. If I can skate out without aggravating anything then I'll do that, making sure my team knows I'm not 100% and how that's going to change my game, but I'm not going to make myself the last line of defence if I know I'm compromised.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I was dicking around knocking pucks down with the paddle while warming up a couple weeks ago, one guy ripped one without looking, eluded all protection and I ended up taking one right off the thumb. I was surprised when I dropped my blocker that there was no real external injury, but the pain sucked. Two weeks later, the swelling has gone down a little, the pain is still there and I'm finally going to go get it checked out. Wondering if my thumb is just sprained, dislocated, or broken! 

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Wow, that must really hurt! Hopefully you're doing better. If you think you might need to sit it out, take your time and let the league find your team substitutes. Hopefully you can come back when you're back to 100%.

 

It sucks when you're hurt bad enough to not play. I got hit in my right thumb back in my days as a lacrosse goalie. The shot broke my thumb protection, it made my thumb bleed, and I had to do everything, including reffing, left-handed until my thumb healed. 

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I'm stubborn. My competitive ego often has the better of me. I'm sure some of you could admit the same. I'm 53 and, slowing down or struggling in a game does bruise my pride as a long time experienced goalie. It's what we have to deal with as the game clock keeps ticking.

In my 30s, I subbed in a game where 6 players showed up. We were playing one of the top teams in the division (beer league). The guys in front had already decided to lose even before puck drop. Five minutes into the game I suffer a high sprang in my right leg. It was a 10 out of 10 in pain. I played through it despite clearly looking like an injured animal in the crease. It was a mix of survival, pride, ego, reputation. We lost, a true blowout. I hobbled to the dressing room and then on. Took me a year to recover. No hockey, no dancing, no running, no cycling. I was done for literally 12 months. Was it smart? Not really. I was hungry for action and wouldn't take no for an answer, not even from myself.

I have had other close calls, like a puck to the neck, 2 crash-ins (which was surely the culprit to my now occasional back issues). I've even showed up at games when I had a migraine or my back was on the verge of locking out. Funny thing, as soon as you step in the crease and the game commences, you kind of forget the pain or discomfort, for the time of play. Mind over matter? Competitive drive? Fear of embarrassment? who knows.

I can play through bruises and hard shots and some strains and tightness, but I do try to consider the severity of my injuries now. I'm not a payed professional after all.

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@RichMan, I sooooo get it how it goes away. It is the strangest thing. I remember sometimes praying for a whistle not to be blown because the pain/discomfort with an associated physical issue would come roaring back. I genuinely believe no one else can understand this unless they themselves have done it....thanks heavens for a place like this and guys willing to put out what careens around in our heads. 

Did any of you play at a time when the "trainer"/"team dr" would play Dr. Feelgood and give you a shot before the game started? What self remedies did you use when you were injured and played anyway? Not to gross out the young goalies but I am curious what some of us dinosaurs may have done.

Funny thing....I am 58, about to be 59, and I have a notice on my desk that I am a member of a class action lawsuit against the NCAA for how they handled concussion injuries. I dont care about the outcome but I just glanced at it after reading RichMan's note.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, twisted my knee and felt a little discomfort on the inner/front part of the knee last night. Took one more shot after hurting it but decided to call it quits then. By my best googling it's probably an MCL or meniscus injury, doesn't seem too serious and hopefully it clears up soon!

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8 hours ago, insertnamehere said:

Well, twisted my knee and felt a little discomfort on the inner/front part of the knee last night. Took one more shot after hurting it but decided to call it quits then. By my best googling it's probably an MCL or meniscus injury, doesn't seem too serious and hopefully it clears up soon!

My worst injury was me on the butterfly and a guy landing on me...I was pushed all the way back and hyper extended both my knees...just imagine that. I was out for 5 or 6 weeks. 

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On 1/16/2022 at 1:20 PM, insertnamehere said:

Well, twisted my knee and felt a little discomfort on the inner/front part of the knee last night. Took one more shot after hurting it but decided to call it quits then. By my best googling it's probably an MCL or meniscus injury, doesn't seem too serious and hopefully it clears up soon!

Careful with those - they can go from trivial to "shut your ass down" real quick!

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36 minutes ago, keeper_13 said:

Careful with those - they can go from trivial to "shut your ass down" real quick!

I did take Monday night off this week. Might have to suit up tomorrow night and if I do I'll be at the very least picking up some sort of knee sleeve/brace. It's really improved in the 4 days since I hurt it so I don't think it's very serious. Surprisingly this is the first knee injury I think I've sustained in 22 years of playing goal, other than bruises. 

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On 1/16/2022 at 10:14 PM, mr_shifty1982 said:

My worst injury was me on the butterfly and a guy landing on me...I was pushed all the way back and hyper extended both my knees...just imagine that. I was out for 5 or 6 weeks. 

I'm glad it was only 5-6 weeks, some people who hyper extend both knees will not get a full recovery.  Being fallen on sucks, it happens sometimes though.  It's not the pain or the discomfort, it's the chance of pointless injury.

THIS is why it pisses me off so much when people run goalies - seriously, foaming-at-the-mouth, chewing-on-the-furniture, starting-up-a-posse level pissed off.  We are super vulnerable when we are in a butterfly trying to smother a puck.  Can't see the person about to hit us, and when they do hit us the impact will be to the top/back of the head, forcing our neck down, putting lots of weight on our hips and knees.  Hockey players aren't light!  Stupid, stupid way to be injured by craven gutless no-talent losers who know the only way they can win is by cheating.  Ratt Tkachuk and everyone else who "accidentally-on-purpose" fall on goalies can jump up their own asses and go to hell, and so can the myopic zebras and clueless talking heads who enable and defend them.  I don't generally approve of "Hextall-Fu" but IMO if someone runs you the correct thing to do is get your pound of flesh immediately (do try to be sure they actually ran you, not everyone who falls on you does so on purpose).  Don't take a number and wait.  It's like training a dog - you have to punish them right when they do it or they don't know why it's happening.  If you wait to be defended, the best you can hope for is to be avenged.

On a related tangent, it also it pisses me off when goalies leave their crease and set picks for their defenders.  When we do that, we're forcing the forechecker to choose between "being a good sport" (ie not pointlessly injuring us) and "rewarding us for being bad sports" (ie: by allowing us to succeed at setting the pick, which is against the letter and spirit of the rules).  I see this happen at the NHL level all the friggin time.  KIDS - it's okay to play the puck, but goalies who set picks deserve what they will (eventually) get!

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1 hour ago, insertnamehere said:

I did take Monday night off this week. Might have to suit up tomorrow night and if I do I'll be at the very least picking up some sort of knee sleeve/brace. It's really improved in the 4 days since I hurt it so I don't think it's very serious. Surprisingly this is the first knee injury I think I've sustained in 22 years of playing goal, other than bruises. 

Good to hear.  I totally understand the pressure to "not let down the team" but you are gonna need your knees every day for the rest of your life.  Sometimes a brace can give you a false sense of security.  Don't know what your health care options are, but in a perfect world you could be assessed by someone with a background in sports medicine, kinesthiology and/or physiotherapy.  I would personally shut it down as soon as I had any kind of sharp or stabbing pain inside the knee, JMO.  

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